Monthly Archives: February 2012

Why The Latest Report From The Texas Public Policy Foundation Has No Foundation

Recently, the Texas Public Policy Foundation released a report titled: EPA’s Approaching Regulatory Avalanche:  “A Regulatory Spree Unprecedented in U.S. History”

(Source: www.parkercountyblog.com

Not only is the title of the report inflammatory and divisive, but the recommendations of the report suggest that Congress should gut the core foundations of primary clean air and clean water protections. Why?  According to Ms. White, “…the new rules have marginal, if indeed measurable at all, health benefits. Nor are they supported by credible science.”  Interestingly, Ms. White issues such statements in a report that fails to reference one single peer-reviewed piece of scientific evidence to support her claims that EPA rules do not have any health benefits.

It’s not surprising that Ms. White calls for an attack on protections legislated through the Clean Air Act (CAA). Texas facilities have proven to be some of the worst emitters in the entire country. While she was a commissioner at the Texas Commission of Environmental Quality, Ms. White consistently tried to override clean air and water protections by rubberstamping permits for facilities across the state and failing to provide proper enforcement for high profile violators such as ASARCO and Flint Hills Refinery.

While we could spend weeks picking apart Ms White’s misleading statements that riddle the report, we thought a more constructive way to respond to the misinformation provided is to highlight a few specific examples of the egregious claims and then tell the truth:

TPPF Claim #1:

EPA is picking on poor little ol’ Texas by placing an effective Federal Implementation Plan on Texas.

The truth is that Texas is an outlier among all the states.  Texas alone decided not to modify its permitting program to comply with the law.   

On, December 1, 2010, EPA released the State Implementation Plan (SIP) Call Rule for greenhouse gas emissions that flowed from the Supreme Court decision in Massachusetts v. EPA. In the SIP call, EPA found that Prevention of Significant Deterioration (PSD) permitting regulations in 13 states did not meet CAA requirements because their programs did not cover greenhouse gas emissions as regulated by the Supreme Court. EPA asked those states to change their laws and submit those changes as a part of a revised SIP for review and approval, and gave the states one year to change their laws.  Twelve states cooperated; Texas alone refused to cooperate with EPA’s efforts to apply greenhouse gas requirements in the PSD program.

In order to allow industry in Texas to be able to obtain legal permits, EPA was forced to issue a Federal Implementation Plan (FIP) and to take on the responsibility of issuing the PSD permits for stationary power plants, large factories and other industrial facilities.

EPA had no other choice – since Texas, and Texas alone, refused to take responsibility for granting these permits.

TPPF Claim #2:

Protecting clean air and water through the Cross State Air Pollution Rule (CSAPR) and the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS) will lead to Armageddon with rolling blackouts and job losses.

  • Independent analyses confirm that industry can comply with MATS while maintaining the reliability of the electric system.
  • EPA’s analysis found adequate reserve margins for generation will be maintained and regional grid reliability will not be compromised.
  • EPA’s analysis has been confirmed by independent assessments of the North American Electric Reliability Corporation, the Department of Energy, and the Congressional Research Service.
  • An Associated Press survey found that power companies expect to retire about 8 percent of generation to comply with the air toxics and CSAPR. The average age of the affected coal plants is 51 years and their profitability has been devastated in recent years by the low price of natural gas.
  • The adaptable compliance framework put forward by EPA provides a conservative, protective backstop to ensure that any local reliability concerns or specific compliance challenges can be addressed.

TPPF Claim #3:

Protecting clean air and water will cost too much. Plus, Texas has already solved our air quality problems.

We beg to differ. Bizarrely, Ms. White discredits one of her main arguments in the report, which is that these rules cost too much. The report states that “since 1970, aggregate emissions of the six criteria pollutants regulated under the CAA have decreased 53 percent. This environmental achievement occurred while the U.S. Gross Domestic Product (GDP) increased over 200 percent.”

If clean air and water are such devastating job killers, how does Ms. White reconcile the fact that Texas has been one of the fastest growing, most profitable states in the nation while air quality has improved?  Interestingly, Ms. White makes no mention of the fact that last year’s drought, almost certainly related to climate change, cost the state billions of dollars in loss.

It appears that Ms. White is blowing a bunch of smoke to try to confuse and scare Texans.

Posted in Air Pollution, Clean Air Act, Environmental Protection Agency, GHGs, TCEQ, TPPF| Comments closed

Austin Energy's Electric Rates Are Lower Than The Texas Public Policy Foundation Would Have You Believe

(Source: www.inhabitat.com)

This commentary was originally posted on the EDF Energy Exchange Blog by Colin Meehan.

Austin Energy’s Rates: 13% Below the Average Rate in ERCOT’s Competitive Markets – After Accounting for the Proposed 12.5% Rate Increase

Austin Energy has been in the news a lot lately, and most often for some controversy around the ongoing rate review process.  What often gets lost in these heated discussions is that fact that Austin's heritage of clean energy and innovative approaches to economic development are firmly rooted in our city's electric utility, and that the utility allows city leaders to keep taxes low.  At the same time, Austin Energy's leadership often puts it in the crosshairs of groups that are ideologically opposed to clean energy and city owned utilities, and whether supported by facts or not, the opportunity to criticize Austin Energy has proven too difficult to resist.

The Texas Public Policy Foundation (TPPF) is often one of the ringleaders in the crusade against clean energy as well as city owned utilities, and they're not going to let facts get in the way of scoring an ideological point.  In knocking Austin Energy and promoting their agenda, TPPF cherry picks data and uses coded language like the idea that customers "can choose" rates lower than Austin Energy's if they are in the competitive regions of the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT).  The truth is, for a customer in the competitive areas of ERCOT to maintain lower rates than Austin Energy they would have to change electric providers each month, and they’d have to be pretty lucky on top of it.

The problem is that the rates TPPF reference when they say customers can choose lower rates are usually introductory, variable or otherwise subject to increases not included in the rates that customers do choose.  What this means is that customers actually pay more than TPPF's selective math would suggest, but TPPF seems more concerned with scoring political points than what customers actually pay for their electricity.

Look at the data from a more logical point of view and you will see that competitive regions in ERCOT average higher residential rates than ERCOT's average rates.  In fact, ERCOT rates are kept low largely by municipal and co-operative utilities like Austin Energy, the customer owned utility model that TPPF criticizes in their latest missive.  The most recent data available for a real analysis of the rates Texans pay was released by the Energy Information Administration just a few months ago, including data through 2010.  As the chart below shows, Austin Energy's rates are well below the ERCOT average, and even farther below the average competitive market rate, despite TPPF's claims to the contrary.  

Even if you account for Austin's proposed 12.5% rate increase, the new rates are 13% below competitive rates in ERCOT. This calculation doesn’t even include the impact of increasing wholesale power rates in ERCOT, which increased about 50% between 2010 and 2011 in the South Zone (Austin Energy's location in the competitive market).  While it's too early to tell how the wholesale power price increase has impacted competitive retail rates, it's clear that Austin Energy's rates – even after the rate review is completed – will be below the competitive average.

As we talk about rates in our community and across Texas, it’s important to remain focused on factual analysis and avoid misleading assumptions driven more by ideology than a desire for real debate. Unfortunately, arguments like those put forward by TPPF don't contribute to an honest discourse; they mislead the public, distort reality, and threaten Austinite's low tax lifestyle.

Posted in TPPF, Utilities| Comments closed

If The Problem Isn't Hydraulic Fracturing, Then What Is?

 This commentary was originally posted on the EDF Energy Exchange Blog by Scott Anderson.

Today, at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Vancouver, the Energy Institute at the University of Texas at Austin released a major report titled, “Fact-Based Regulation for Environmental Protection in Shale Gas Development.” The report’s conclusions are those of the authors, though Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) helped the University of Texas at Austin define its scope of work and reviewed drafts during the course of the project.

What are the main conclusions? As has been the case in other inquiries, the University of Texas study did not find any confirmed cases of drinking water contamination due to pathways created by hydraulic fracturing. But this does not mean such contamination is impossible or that hydraulic fracturing chemicals can’t get loose in the environment in other ways (such as through spills of produced water). In fact, the study shines a light on the fact that there are a number of aspects of natural gas development that can pose significant environmental risk. And it highlights the fact that there are a number of ways in which current regulatory oversight is inadequate.

The following conclusions are particularly important:

  • Many reports of groundwater contamination occur in conventional oil and gas operations (e.g. failure of well-bore casing and cementing) and are not unique to hydraulic fracturing.
  • Surface spills of fracturing fluids appear to pose greater risks to groundwater than hydraulic fracturing itself.
  • Blowouts – uncontrolled fluid releases during construction and operation – are a rare occurrence, but subsurface blowouts appear to be under-reported.
  • The lack of baseline studies makes it difficult to evaluate the long-term, cumulative effects and risks associated with hydraulic fracturing.
  • Most state oil and gas regulations were written well before shale gas development became widespread.
  • Gaps remain in the regulation of well casing and cementing, water withdrawal and usage, and waste storage and disposal.
  • Enforcement capacity is highly variable among the states, particularly when measured by the ratio of staff to numbers of inspections conducted.

The report deserves widespread attention. But it is by no means the final word on these topics. Chip Groat, who led the study on behalf of the Energy Institute, plans to tackle additional topics in the future. These include air emissions from natural gas operations, induced seismicity and a field and laboratory investigation of whether hydrogeologic connectivity exists between the Barnett Shale and aquifers and other geologic units above and below the formation.

To read the complete report, visit http://energy.utexas.edu/

Posted in Barnett Shale, Natural gas, Oil| Comments closed

An Interactive Guide To Governor Perry’s Fight To Protect Polluters

Governor Rick Perry loves to talk about how bad frivolous lawsuits are for Texas; he feels so strongly that last year he made the reduction of these lawsuits an emergency issue for the Texas State Legislature as he prepared for his failed bid for the Republican nomination for President.  Speaking of frivolous lawsuits, Governor Perry and Attorney General Greg Abbott have been pressing no less than 16 lawsuits against the Federal Government.

The majority of these lawsuits are part of Perry’s fight to protect polluters, and stop life-saving rules that have been under development by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) – for decades in many cases.  These EPA rules will reduce toxic pollution, cut back on emergency room visits and childhood asthma, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions that have exacerbated our current record-setting drought, according to Perry appointed State Climatologist John Nielsen-Gammon.

Today, the Texas Tribune posted an interactive feature that summarizes each of Texas’ lawsuits against the Federal Government.  In the case(s) of Texas vs. the EPA, however, Perry and Abbott’s litigiousness in defense of Texas polluters has been so complicated that the Tribune had to combine the EPA lawsuits into six different categories.  We’ve discussed previously the hypocrisy of Governor Perry’s “loser pays” legislation and his unwillingness to commit to repaying taxpayers all of the state and federal expenses from these frivolous lawsuits.  Governor Perry claims he will “always err on the side of life,” but his lawsuits to protect polluters over the health and lives of Texans flies in the face of what religious organizations consider “pro-life” EPA rules.  Hopefully the Tribune piece will bring this issue back into the forefront of the debate; while Perry spends his time and money on questionable lawsuits, back in Texas we’re facing real energy issues that require real solutions, not more political posturing.

Posted in Air Pollution, Drought, Environmental Protection Agency, GHGs| Comments closed

A Texas Coalition for Water, Energy and Economic Security Briefing: The Drought Threatens Texas’ Power

(Source: www.businessinsider.com)

On Thursday, February 2, the Texas Coalition for Water, Energy and Economic Security (TCWEES), which includes Environmental Defense Fund and other stakeholders in the environmental and business community, held a legislative briefing discussing the impact that the drought could have on power in Texas. This is the first of a series of TCWEES-hosted, educational events focused on energy efficiency that will be held around the state during the legislative interim.

The speakers at the briefing included:

  • Dr. John Nielson-Gammon, Texas State Climatologist and Regents Professor of Atmospheric Science at Texas A&M University
  • Dr. Carey King, Research Associate at the Center for International Energy and Environmental Policy at the Bureau of Economic Geology at University of Texas at Austin
  • Mark Armentrout, President and CEO of Texas Technology Partners; former chair of ERCOT
  • Cris Eugster, EVP and Chief Sustainability Officer for CPS Energy (San Antonio)
  • Kevin Tuerff, Principal and President of EnviroMedia

In 2011, Texas experienced record heat and drought and the electric grid was stressed as a result. Though the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) took a proactive approach to dealing with the crisis, the potential still remains for economic loss caused by electric generation outages related to heat and drought. The drought is predicted to continue and action is needed to protect Texas’ power and economic viability. Given that it can provide the same amount of service while using less electricity, energy efficiency should be a significant part of the solution. Energy efficiency reduces waste, electric bills, emissions and water use needed for electric generation.

During the briefing, Dr. John Nielson-Gammon brought up the recent rain in Texas. He said that while the rain is great for taking people’s mind off the drought, it is not useful for setting us up for the summer of 2012 because it’s too little too late for our current situation. He added that climate change is an important enough factor in the drought that it must be considered in long-term water planning.

(Source: www.droughtmonitor.unl.edu)

Texas State Representative Donna Howard was in attendance and she posed a question about better coordination between state agencies. Though there is some coordination, there is no actual coordinated plan among and between state agencies to be thoughtful about planning for Texas’ future water and energy needs. Dr. Carey King pointed out that both the Texas Water and Development Board and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality work on water issues, but it isn’t clear how power plants fit into water priorities. He stated that we don’t have an answer and that we need a better understanding of the breadth and depth of water issues.

The key takeaways from this briefing are that water and power are inextricably linked and the stress that the drought has had, and will continue to have, on our ecosystems and electric systems is a serious concern. This is not something that will go away as the climate will continue to change. Cleaner energy sources and greater energy efficiency will cut carbon pollution and help stabilize the climate, protecting our land, water, air and health. We need to find solutions now.

Posted in Climate Change, Drought, Energy Efficiency, Energy-Water Nexus, ERCOT| Comments closed

Matagorda County: The Debate over the Non-Attainment Designation for Ozone

 

(Source: http://flagspot.net/flags/us-tx-mg.html)

In December of last year, EPA issued a federal register notice recommending a non-attainment status for a number of counties around the country that do not meet the federal standard for ozone, a harmful air pollutant. These areas represent counties where concentrations of ozone exceed the health-based standard for ozone set by EPA or where emissions from the county have been shown to contribute to non-attainment in a nearby county.

The issue has become a hot topic in the Houston area because of EPA’s recent proposal to include Matagorda County as a non-attainment county.

Arguments used by the EPA to include Matagorda contend that emissions from the county are contributing to Houston’s non-attainment status include:

  • Emissions inventory from Matagorda County  
  •  Air modeling data indicates that air over the Matagorda County region does end up in Houston some portion of the time

Arguments used by state and local officials that Matagorda County should not be listed as a non-attainment area include:

  • The emissions inventory information used by EPA does not match the inventory collected by the TCEQ
  • Air modeling data indicates that air over the Matagorda County region ends up in Houston only a small portion of the time

A recent radio interview on KTRH featured Dr. Matthew Tejada, Executive Director of Air Alliance Houston and Matagorda County Judge Nate MacDonald provided insight into the opposing views of this contentious issue.

The broadcast suggested that the non-attainment issue is another example of over-reach by the federal government and that the EPA designation of Matagorda County as non-attainment would simply be used as a back-stop to prevent the proposed White Stallion Coal Plant from being built in Matagorda County.

While much time was dedicated to debating conspiracy theories during the broadcast, it was unfortunate that the heart of the issue was not discussed nor any thought-leadership provided on the critical issue. Ozone is an air pollutant that is regulated by the EPA because of its negative impact on human health.  The EPA is mandated to set standards for pollutants, like ozone, as part of the Clean Air Act. The state of Texas spends over $700 million dollars a year to treat asthma, just one of the tragic diseases known to be exacerbated by ozone.

Ultimately, EPA is the final authority on the issue of non-attainment. Instead of playing into conspiracy theories and political shenanigans promoted by broadcasters, I think time would be better spent discussing how we can clean the region’s air from toxic pollution, not fighting about who is or is not responsible.

While TCEQ hasn’t officially announced a comment period, you can send your input to the agency regarding the Matagorda non-attainment issue; TCEQ will provide its final comments to the Governor at the end of February.

Posted in Air Pollution, Environmental Protection Agency, Ozone| Comments closed
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